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Rep. Jody Richards, 80, former House Speaker, is among those who are retiring from legislature

By Tom Latek
Kentucky Today

A large number of Kentucky lawmakers are not seeking re-election this year, so barring a special session on tax reform or other issues, Saturday was the last day they convened in their chambers on the third floor of the State Capitol.
Among them was Rep. Jody Richards, D-Bowling Green, a member of the House since 1976, who also served as Speaker from 1995-2008.

He says he decided to run because of his interest in public education.  “I was a co-sponsor of the Kentucky Education Reform Act in 1990 and a co-sponsor of the Higher Education Reform Act of 1997, which made our community colleges so strong.”

When asked why he decided to retire, the 80-year-old Richards said, “Age has something to do with it, but you just know when it’s time. There’s some good folks running in my place and that’s a good thing, because you always want to make sure that someone is coming here for the right reasons.”

Retiring state Rep. Jody Richards presided over the House briefly on Friday. Richards has had a 43-year career in the General Assembly. (Kentucky Today/Tom Latek)

Richards says the biggest change he’s seen since he was first elected to the House is legislative independence. 

“When I first came, we were only in session for 60 calendar days, so we were out the first of March.  Then we changed to 60 business days by a constitutional amendment.  Then we changed from being elected the same time as the governor.”

When Richards was a freshman, lawmakers convened for the 60 days only in even-numbered years, with a brief organizational session in the odd-numbered years, to elect leadership and make committee assignments.

Now, he says, “We have brought the General Assembly to where it is a co-equal branch of government.  When you see members of the governor’s own party overriding vetoes, that shows you how much the legislature has grown.”

Richards cited an example of how far legislative independence from the governor has come.  

“I was named Education Committee Chairman at the end of my first term.  The next day, a black book appeared on my desk that told me how I was going to vote on every bill.  Things have changed.”

He admits he has regrets, regarding some things he’s been unable to accomplish.

“We’ve come a long way in public education, but we still have a long way to go.”

Richards says he will keep busy in his retirement.  “I teach a government class at Western Kentucky University, and I really enjoy that. My wife has some ‘honey-do’ things and we are going to travel some.  You know me, you know I’m going to stay busy.”

To salute his 43 years of service to the General Assembly, House Speaker Pro Tem David Osborne, R-Prospect, had Richards preside over the House, while resolutions honoring retiring lawmakers were adopted on Friday.

Five Democrats and three Republicans are vying to succeed Richards as State Representative for the 20th District, which includes part of Warren County. 

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